[Nyerges is the author of such books as “Self-Sufficient Home,” “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and “Guide to Wild Foods.” He has been teaching self-reliance skills since 1974. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]
At one time, life stretched out like eternity, like the last scene from “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly,” where you knew there were winners and losers and fools, and you hoped desperately that you’d be a winner. Well, at least a good guy. That’s the perspective of a child, seeing the world through simplistic eyes, black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. That’s good, really, but as Mark Twain once noted, there is enough good in the worst of us, and enough bad in the best of us, that we should quit pretending and start working together. At least Twain said something like that, and what he meant was that only in movies and childhood dreams do we ever get to see absolute clarity which doesn’t exist in the real world.
In childhood, I assumed that the older bodies also contained minds that were more developed, and advanced, and therefore more objective and mature. I assumed that parents were the fair arbiters of disputes and that elected officials took those positions because they cared about the good of the people they represented. I believed in the Jimmy Stewart world of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” even though I never found it.
I believed that there must be a sanctuary of sanity somewhere where people practiced lives of sanity and non-prejudice, and where fraud and cheating were unheard of. I lived on a farm for awhile right after high school, and I felt that perhaps there, in the rough existence where your work resulted in a very tangible result that supported your existence, it was hard to cheat and defraud, and the folks had pride in their skills, their
sense of community, and their honesty.
Could the urbanization of the world be part of the culprit in our fall from grace? Perhaps.
But it’s still no excuse. Even if I never found Shangra-la on earth, I have not stopped believing in the principles by which such a place must exist. For example, you must keep your word. Yes, printed papers are OK for poor memories, and for those who are inclined to twist the words later to mean something else from the original intent. But when you twist your word, and bend your word, you bend your very soul, and you dis-integrate your very integrity. That’s why my father always said to keep your word, that a person is only as good as their word. Even in middle-class Pasadena, my father knew that there was an ineffable something about the giving and keeping of your word. In Shangri-la, you would always keep your word.
In my vision of Paradise, there would be work, but the god that we all trusted wouldn’t be money. Money, or some version of it, seems inescapable for daily commerce and for converting your work and time into a medium of useful, recognizable exchange. But in Paradise, money would naturally be a tool to assist others to get their own enterprises going, and to provide for the common good. People would not be obsessed by money and would not be driven by the desire for money. Killing for money would be unheard of.
Work must have a tangible result, within the framework of a goal. A person must naturally feel uplifted by doing one’s work, and when one knowingly works at a menial and pointless job to fulfill someone else’s desires and goals, it’s hard to feel uplifted.
Of course, bits and pieces of this Shangra-la exist right now, everywhere, in most people. I believe that everyone has an innate desire to find rightness, and even fairness, and everyone ultimately recognizes the objective reality of the Law of Thought, that what you think and what you do has ramifications that are scientific result of those specific thoughts and actions.
If you inwardly believe in the possibility of a Paradise on earth, you must start to grasp those principles of living and thinking that lead to Shangri-La. And though you must do so personally, on your own, it is fortunate that there are others, if you can find them, who are also seeking a higher road.
Shangri-La is not a place that you find, but rather, a place that you earn the right to be a part of, by the evolution of your thought and actions. What does that mean? What must someone do? Again, the answers are everywhere, hidden in plain view. They go by such names as learning to think, separating feeling from emotions, distinguishing empathy from sympathy, learning to use words precisely, working hard to see world events objectively, and not subjectively based on your personal cultural bias. It means learning the practical value and living the precepts taught by all the great Way-showers of history, from all cultures. Ever heard of the Golden Rule? That’s a good place to start. How about the 10 Commandments? Another good starting point.
One winter night during high school, my friend Nathaniel and I bicycled into a little side canyon of the Angeles National Forest, and we made a safe little fire in our campground and talked about the meaning of life and how we thought that civilization might fail. It had never occurred to us that we are barely civilized now, and we only believe we are “civilized” because of our material wealth and technological toys. We bemoaned the fact that society is on the fast road to uncivil barbarousness, and wondered what could be done, and what should be done.
We always toyed with the idea of becoming hermits and hiding out in a cave somewhere, but both of us were way too social to live out our lives in a cave. By whatever choices we made, we felt that everyone should be a good example, and no one should assume that there is no hope for the future. Our civility, our culture, our sense of civilization, after all, is an internal concept that we first keep alive inside our thinking. Once that flame is bright within, it is proper to share with others, and attempt to be a part of the solution to the many problems we see all around.